Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Eviction Threat 2: Gaslight Boogaloo

Yesterday, I told the story of how appalled I was earlier this week, to come home from running errands and find an eviction threat on my door: apparently, February 19 was “the deadline to come to the leasing office and speak with the manager about the [illegal drug] violation that you received on Thursday Feb 15th 2018. You have failed to do so and this will and can result in the termination of your lease. To avoid this make sure to come by the office by 12 noon Feb 20th 2018.”

Except of course I never received any “violation,” so how did one get connected to my home? Since that note had my apartment number hand-written on the back, but no names or other identifying information on it, my original guess was that the memo was intended for another apartment, but someone accidentally misplaced the digits: I live in unit XYZ, but this was supposed to go to the people in XZY.

Fortunately, Jeff (the actual lease-holder) works the night shift as opposed to a regular nine-to-five gig, so he was able to talk to the management about the matter without having to take time off work. He told me that when he went to the management office there was a “marshal” there, who said something about a woman with a package outside our apartment door. He also asked Jeff what color his wife was, and when Jeff said white with red hair the marshal agreed I wasn't the problem.

Which is good, except – for 99 percent of the apartments here, the answer would've been “black.” Or, more precisely, “those varying shades of brown and beige and tan and related hues somewhat misleadingly labeled 'black' according to contemporary American racial whatever.” So even though the problem seemed resolved this time I was still worried, not just for “principled” reasons but a very pragmatic one: sure, being the only white woman in an otherwise-black apartment complex saved me from mis-identification this time – but it could all-too-easily backfire in the other direction. Petite white women aren't that hard to find, even in “majority minority” Atlanta suburbs like South Dekalb County. So how did my apartment get written up for an eviction-worthy violation without me even knowing about it?

“None of your business,” is what they told me when I asked today. That's an exact quote — said maybe two or three minutes before they threatened to evict me. Again.

Let me backtrack a little. When I wrote last night's blog post, I asked Jeff where he'd put the initial threat letter, because I wanted to quote from a more extensive piece of it. When he said the management took it back after determining we were not the ones they worried about, I frowned and said, “If I were them I wouldn't want to leave a paper trail either.”

I'd thought I was kidding, but in sneero veritas* – next day when I asked them about it, they denied ever threatening us with eviction and asked to see that letter as proof. At which point I realized with a horrified sinking feeling that these people were not acting in good faith, not honest, and not to be trusted.

When I went to the office I saw the presumed “marshal” Jeff mentioned yesterday: a large, intimidating-looking man wearing a bulletproof vest labeled “warrant service.” When I was talking to one of the office workers, asking how I could avoid getting further violations in future, the marshal/WS guy walked over and told me, in a very unfriendly voice, that he gives out the violations so if I have any complaints I should talk to him and not everybody else.

“All right,” I said. “Sorry about that. How did that violation get recorded against my apartment?” He told me not to worry about it, since my husband had taken care of it yesterday. Which I already knew, but not know how the violation happened in the first place, which also means I don't know how to avoid future recurrences. That, IIRC, is when he said it was none of my business. I looked at him in some surprise and said something like “I must disagree; it is very much my business, how I got threatened with eviction for a violation I never even knew about.”

I think that's when he first denied making an eviction threat, and demanded to see the paper. Which is when I realized with a sinking feeling that these people were not coming at this in good faith, at all.

Then a woman who I guess is the new Chief Office Manager or whatever accused me of being sarcastic. I apologized if my tone was rude, but said I am genuinely worried – how could I have proven it wasn't me? Of course we all know it's impossible to prove a negative, but ….

You know how a common Internet-troll arguing tactic is self-contradiction? First they say X, then when you respond they insist they actually said not-X. Which is frustrating as hell and evidence of bad faith, but with online trolls you can at least quote or link to their earlier arguments: “You say X now, but here's where you clearly said not-X, not five minutes ago.”

Of course I couldn't quote any contradictory posts during today's discussion. Nor could I speak in full sentences; either the office manager or the “Warrant Service” guy would always interrupt. They never threatened us with eviction before – though she said they're going to evict us now, after my terrible, threatening behavior here today. At one point Office Manager made some comment about how I kept misquoting or misinterpreting them, and I (admittedly exasperated by then) said “I'm sorry; I did not think I needed to record this, but if—”

At that, OM got even ruder and more furious than before, going on about how I'd be facing lawsuits if I ever tried that, which made me frown in confusion and say “Oh, I'm sorry; I thought Georgia was a one-party consent state?” [Narrator: It is.]

That seemed to make her even more upset, and said she'd give me her email address and we could continue the conversation that way. Which I thought was a wonderful idea — I feel more comfortable communicating via writing than speaking anyway, especially in stressful matters such as this one — so I said “Yes, please, that would be great! Plus that way we'll have a paper trail in case of future misunderstandings” or something to that effect .... but before I could finish speaking she interrupted me again to tell me to get out of her office, and she had the intimidating Warrant Service guy escort me to the door — and no, I never got her promised email address either. 

Of course they have no legal right to evict me for asking about a violation (or getting the false violation in the first place) – but they can certainly be annoying jerks who make my time here unnecessarily unpleasant. And when our lease is up for renewal in a couple months they can likely raise the rent sky-high, or we can take on the expense and annoyance of yet another midsummer move. Fortunately we can “afford” it (meaning the expense will hurt us financially, but at least the wound wouldn't be fatal) — but I'd wager most tenants here can NOT afford it, and that's what these corrupt managers are counting on.

When my friend Kevin Carson read my blog post from yesterday, he tweeted it and remarked that "If you think structural racism is bad in law enforcement, check out the landlords in predominantly black areas." To which I can only add: holy shit, yes. Even in my broke-student days dealing with cheap and skeevy landlords, I never encountered any so-called "professional" who behaved with such belligerent dishonesty.

From what my neighbors later told me, I gather the bully-behaving "Warrant Service" dude has been scaring kids in the complex ... and I'll bet he's the guy with the aggressive and fake "drug dog" from yesterday, too. 
*Probably the worst pun or attempt thereby I've made in my life. But today I careth not.

#WhitePrivilege: When Innocence Won't Save Your White Ass, but Whiteness Will

For the past week or so, the management at my apartment complex has left frequent notes on all the tenants' doors — more precisely, rolling 8”x11” printouts into hollow tubes which are then stuck in the narrow space between people's doorknobs and doorjambs — and I'd discover mine either when I opened my door for the first time that day, or when I returned home from running errands and saw another paper roll. Most were reminders of the complex rules: any cars parked here must be street-legal and in running order; put your garbage in the dumpster, not the ground; and similar things.

The overwhelming majority of notes are printed on white paper, but last week somebody put a red note on the door across the breezeway from mine even though that apartment's been empty since the first of this month, when its tenants were evicted. The woman and kids who'd lived there did nothing wrong, but the man who'd lived there until December 17, when he tried shooting some people and ended up shooting my apartment instead, clearly did, and I guess the management decided to evict some innocent people on his behalf. (At the time, Jeff and I joined various neighbors in urging the management not to evict the man's family, but this evidently did not have any effect.)

That red paper was an eviction notice in the name of a man who was NOT the shooter, so far as I knew (besides, I'm pretty sure the lease had been in her name, not his). That red roll and various white notices are still wedged in the vacant apartment's doorjamb as I type this.

Monday afternoon, Jeff and I left our apartment shortly after one o'clock to run some errands, and when we returned home shortly before six saw another white paper next to our doorknob. But one detail made it look different from the others: someone had used a pen to hand-scrawl our apartment number on the back.

I unrolled it and found a pre-printed list of possible lease violations – loud music, property damage, misbehaving pets, etc. – with “illegal drugs” checked off the list. Underneath was a note:
Today was the deadline to come to the leasing office and speak with the manager about the violation that you received on Thursday Feb 15th 2018. You have failed to do so and this will and can result in the termination of your lease. To avoid this make sure to come by the office by 12 noon Feb 20th 2018.
Clearly this was some type of mistake — we certainly hadn't “received” any “violation,” whatever that meant, let alone a deadline to deal with it. Other than our apartment number written on the back of the page, there was nothing to personalize the letter, no mention of my name or Jeff's. I figured the letter was meant for another apartment, and whoever scrawled our number on the back must've accidentally transposed a couple of digits. The office closed at five, so we'd have to wait until the next day to ask.

By the time I woke up next day Jeff was awake and dressed, and said he'd already been to the management office to clarify the matter.

“Good,” I said. “Whose apartment was that eviction-threat letter actually meant for?”

“Oh, it was meant for us,” Jeff said dismissively. When he went to the management office a marshal was there with the office staff, saying something about a woman and a package. And then the marshal said to Jeff “I don't mean to be rude, but what color is your wife?” When Jeff said “white with red hair,” the marshal agreed that no, the woman definitely wasn't me.

So – what the hell would've happened if I were black? (Which actually is the case for something like 99 percent of the tenants in this complex.) Presumably I'd have faced the logical impossibility of trying to disprove a negative. I wasn't there to ask the marshal to be more specific about the details. All I know is that on the fifteenth there was a woman somewhere, presumably in the vicinity of my apartment door off the third-story breezeway. Also there was a package – I don't know what it looked like or how big it was. Nor do I know if the woman carried the package, received it from someone else, gave it to someone else, or what.

What exactly does “received a violation” entail here, anyway? How did my apartment end up “receiving” it? Presumably it emanated from a security guard, not an actual cop with arresting powers. I doubt the woman, whoever she was, showed any identification suggesting she lived where I do, or ay ID at all for that matter-- the marshal asked Jeff what color his wife was, not her name.
Turns out the apartment complex is now under brand new management, which explains the recent rain of rule-reminder notices. The new management also seemed not to know about the still-unrepaired bullet damage to our apartment; Jeff filled out a work order detailing what needed to be done, and also let them make a photocopy of the card a cop gave us the day of the shooting, with the case number and related info.

And the new management sounds aggressive to the point of assholery; Jeff said he saw a security guy walking around with what looks like a police K-9, which started barking when Jeff walked past it — both he and my downstairs neighbor's husband agreed it was a "security theater" fake-drug dog. Also, when Jeff opened the door to go to the apartment manager's office he found another paper roll: a reminder that the lease states that the complex's “quiet hours” are between 9 p.m. and seven a.m. followed by mention of a 7 p.m. curfew for all children under 18, who must be inside their homes by then or else “Any resident found guilty of not complying will result in immediate termination of their lease. No EXCEPTIONS or EXCUSES!!!!” (That's actually a truncated quote: I put four exclamation points after the all-caps EXCUSES whereas the original note uses fifteen.)

After Jeff told me this, I went out to discard some garbage and stopped to chat with my downstairs neighbor, who stood outside waiting for one of her daughters to return from school, and my next-door neighbor, who kept her company. They knew about the previous day's eviction-threat on my door, and I updated them regarding the marshal and how my coloring solved the problem, ending with the rhetorical question “So what would've happened if I'd been black instead?” Both women agreed in that case I'd be in deep and wholly unjustified shit. Then (since we were already discussing/complaining about the new management anyway) they started sharing their own complaints about the new management, which segued into some complaints about the local police. Short version: they (and especially their adult or adult-looking kids) were, and are, getting shit for Existing While Black.

None of their stories surprised me, exactly — any student of police misconduct in America knows about Driving While Black and its many siblings, how a “street gang” can mean as little as “three or more black folks in public together,” and of course my own take on so-called “white privilege” has always been “it definitely exists in America, it definitely is a problem, and 'privilege' is definitely a bad label for the concept” — but while I've read plenty of complaints in news stories, and in quote-unquote black blogs and websites, not since my daily-newspaper days have I been directly told such stories — and not since my undergrad days did I hear them in a “social” (as opposed to journalism) context. They were especially incensed about the new curfew announced that morning; my next-door neighbor said her son, who works every day, already gets harassed enough walking to the store across the street, and she talked about The Talk she (like all black parents) had to give their son about how to increase his chances of surviving police encounters. I could only nod in furious sympathy, occasionally punctuated with useless comments: “How horrible!” “Those assholes.”

As for the mysterious woman and the mysterious “package,” it's damned lucky she got caught Doing Something With A Package While Black in the vicinity of my apartment as opposed to, like, 99 percent of the others in this complex, because to the best of my knowledge I am literally the only woman in this complex white enough to easily prove the negative “No, I'm not some random black woman who allegedly had a package or something.” Had it been any other apartment but mine, I'd have another neighbor lady evicted over something she had nothing to do with.

NEXT DAY ADDENDUM: There's a followup to this story, and a nastily ironic one: I got threatened with eviction for asking how to avoid being threatened with eviction in the future.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Trump's SNAP Judgments and my Fever Dreams

My personal warranty must've expired this year, because since the start of 2018 there have only been three days including this one where I haven't suffered at least one and usually more symptoms bad enough to require actual professional medical intervention, most often in the form of prescription drugs. More prescriptions this past month and a half than in my entire previous adult life combined.

None of my prescriptions had the slightest bit of recreational potential, alas, but a couple of 'em still managed to mess me up pretty badly for a couple of days. When writing my most-recent post before this one, when I discussed how Matt Damon is thoroughly and admirably not-connected to the very unpleasant Sunday before last Christmas when my then-neighbor fired four bullets into my apartment's front door, I did not realize that the slightly off feeling I'd had ever since the morning all those cops and detectives trooped through my apartment (to investigate a crime which had NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with Matt Damon, nor with you, the honorable individual reading this) – my feeling of “offness” was not a combination of loss of sleep and the stress of the whole multiple-bullets thing, but the brief incubation period between “a nasty infectious agent enters your body” and “things go badly wrong as a result.”

So I had a rather unpleasant bronchial infection resulting in various prescriptions, and before that cleared away I got a pinched nerve which limited my ability to move and resulted in more prescriptions, and either I have a previously unknown drug allergy or my various medications somehow clashed with each other because I ended up almost completely out of this world for two or three days, and Jeff had just about decided to drag my semi-conscious self to an emergency room when my fever mercifully broke.

But everything eventually cleared up, and I'm much better now and ready to rejoin the world or so I thought because I figured today was Valentine's Day but it must be April Fools, seeing how this is an article I actually read:
The Trump administration is proposing a major shake-up in one of the country's most important "safety net" programs, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. Under the proposal, most SNAP recipients would lose much of their ability to choose the food they buy with their SNAP benefits.

The proposal is included in the Trump administration budget request for fiscal year 2019. It would require approval from Congress.

Under the proposal, which was announced Monday, low-income Americans who receive at least $90 a month — just over 80 percent of all SNAP recipients — would get about half of their benefits in the form of a "USDA Foods package." The package was described in the budget as consisting of "shelf-stable milk, ready to eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans and canned fruit and vegetables." The boxes would not include fresh fruits or vegetables.
I thought Republicans for all their current faults were supposed to be more wedded to the idea that individuals make better choices for themselves than any government bureaucrat could make on their behalf? That's certainly been their main argument in favor of school choice – have government [taxpayers]  pay for education, but have government funding follow the student, rather than go to the school. Previously, I've tried persuading my anti-choice friends with this analogy:
I also support the idea of helping poor people who cannot afford to buy sufficient food for their families (though I'd prefer giving such people cash, rather than food stamps and WIC vouchers and the like) -- but even so, the system we have, wherein people are given food stamps to spend at whatever store they please, is FAR better than a system wherein poor people are only able to get food from ONE specified grocery store in their neighborhood -- and if that store is subpar and has a crappy selection of food, tough shit for them; if they want to shop at a decent grocery store, their only option is to move to a neighborhood which has one. Yet that dysfunctional hypothetical is EXACTLY how our public education system works now.

So when the hell did so-called conservatives start deciding bureaucrats make better choices than individuals?
… oh, right, when those individuals are poor. After all, true and principled conservatism in the Trump era means government money should only go to people who don't actually need it.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

On Matt Damon, and the Dumbass who Fired Four Bullets Into My Apartment

Will somebody give Matt Damon a cookie and a pat on the head so he'll quit whining about how insufficient praise is being showered upon men who aren't sexual predators? I'd do it myself, but I'm too busy systematically going through my apartment complex thanking my neighbors who did NOT shoot four bullets into my apartment Sunday morning.

…. oh, yeah, that happened too. Sunday morning around eight o'clock, Jeff and I were wrenched out of a sound sleep by four VERY LOUD banging sounds in quick succession. I groggily figured it was kids playing with firecrackers (the “fireworks superstore” is closer to us than the nearest full-service grocery) so I put my head back on the pillow and was almost asleep again when Jeff came in and told me to get dressed since he had to call the police.

Come to find out the shooter was Jason, who is either the fiance or husband of the woman whose apartment door is across the breezeway from my own. (He was her fiance when I first met and made small talk with him last year; I don't know if they formalized their relationship since then. For her sake, I'm rather hoping not.) And, for what it's worth, Jason wasn't shooting at my door, but at one or two people standing in front of it. The first of many cops who visited my apartment Sunday morning said that one person was hit and taken to the hospital—and also added that Jason did apologize for the whole incident.

One bullet cut through a support post on the metal shelving unit Jeff and I set up next to the front door; I think that's the slug Jeff later found (alongside a thoroughly shattered spatula) in the plastic chest of drawers where we store extra kitchen utensils. There's a biggish hole gouged out of the wall behind that shelving unit. Jeff had kept a pair of his winter gloves on top of those plastic drawers; one fingertip of one glove was blown off. Further away from the door, down the hallway leading to the three bedroom/offices, are three additional bullet holes: one on either side of the doorframe of the first bathroom, and one puncturing the door of the linen closet at the end of the hall. (Much later, after the cops and detectives all left and we were cleaning up the paint chips, plaster speckles, drywall fluff and other debris, Jeff discovered that a bullet had also gone through a free-standing floor fan, too.)

I spent a few morbid minutes investigating the bullet holes and thinking what those bullets would've done to me had I been walking down the hallway or into either bathroom at just the wrong time: “Okay, so, this one would've taken one or both my legs below the knee, that one would've gone through my uppermost thigh but maybe would've been survivable if it didn't hit a major artery... uh-huh, this would've been the kill shot.”

I suppose Jeff and I have to turn in our civil-libertarian decoder rings, since we waived our right to demand a search warrant before letting detectives into our apartment to photograph the bullet damage and collect evidence (the detective took the one bullet Jeff found, plus metal fragments from where a bullet nicked the shelves).

So anyway, ever since Sunday there's been a new topic added to my conversational repertoire; if you want to be uncharitable, you can label it as “Waaaah, somebody fired four high-caliber bullets into my apartment and now I'm all complainy about it even though Jeff and I are physically unhurt, waaaah.” But not until reading about Matt Damon's problems did I realize how selfish I've been: for all my complaints about the guy who fired bullets through my home, I never once thought to thank any of the many fine people who never did any such thing. And I want to rectify this now, starting with Matt Damon: thank you, Mr. Damon, for meeting the absolute bare minimum decent-responsible-person standards, especially where I personally am concerned. I actively admire your non-felonious tendencies.

And for anyone else reading this: if you hear me complain about the guy who fired four bullets into my apartment, it would be perfectly reasonable and downright expected for you to respond by saying “Hey, Jennifer, if you're gonna bitch about the guy who fired those bullets, first you need to praise me for being the sort of person who does NOT fire bullets into people's homes. Remember: when you talk about problems you experience, your focus is supposed to be on me and my virtuousness, and thus far you've really been dropping the ball, you horrible self-centered person you.”

Thank you for not trying to shoot me, everybody. I really appreciate it, and I'm sorry my selfish focus on me and my bullet-point problems distracted me from who the real victims are here: good people like you and Matt Damon, both of whom were unjustifiably unpraised by selfish women who foolishly thought they were the ones having problems, here. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Why Should Equifax's Problem Be Your Problem Too?

So, roughly half the American population is at extra-high risk of identity theft after the Equifax security breach. In honor of the occasion, here's a reprint of an article I wrote ten years ago for a now-defunct alternative weekly in Connecticut, explaining how identity-theft laws actually benefit banks and credit-card companies at the expense of ordinary American citizens.

Thy Brother's Keeper (And Thy Bank's, Too)
Protecting the assets of wealthy lending institutions is your personal responsibility. Seriously.

By Jennifer Abel
Hartford Advocate
Thursday, September 27, 2007

Here's how the five stages of grief play out when you learn that your lucky self is at risk of identity theft because you're one of the 106,000 taxpayers whose names and social security numbers were on the laptop stolen from the Department of Revenue Services last month:

Denial: I don't believe this!
Anger: Dang government, always making innocent people miserable.
Bargaining: I'd give anything for competent leadership.
Depression: Yeah, right, that'll happen (sniffle).
Acceptance: I can't afford to move to Amsterdam.

Once you complete the final phase you can start taking steps to regain control of your destiny, by contacting either Equifax, TransUnion or Experian, the three credit-reporting agencies listed on the DRS letter, and telling it to put a credit alert on your accounts. Whichever agency you call is legally obligated to contact the other two on your behalf.

What's the benefit of a credit alert? According to a Sept. 14 press release from Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (who did not return our calls for this story), "Credit alerts require companies to make a good faith effort to verify the identity of anyone seeking credit or a loan. Alerts must be renewed every 90 days."

Envy me, reader, for the security that's temporarily mine: over the next three months minus the time it takes for this to get to print and thence to you, if anyone contacts the Gigantobank Corporation to say "Hi, I'm Jennifer and I'd like to take out several thousand dollars in high-interest, unsecured credit-card debt," Gigantobank has to make a good-faith effort to ensure it's actually me before burdening my credit record with a legal responsibility to pay them back this money.

This is a special privilege, not a default setting. After I activated it for myself by calling the first company listed on my DRS form letter, I made a few more phone calls in hopes of learning why anyone need bother with credit alerts anyway.

"Protect yourself from identity theft." That phrase, in quotation marks, yielded 141,000 hits in an online search. Take the quotes away and it's nearly two million. Who in America hasn't heard it at least that many times? It's a bona fide part of the zeitgeist. Yet the assumption behind it is false.

The classic identity theft scam works something like this: the thief manages to convince Gigantobank he's actually you, and borrows money in your name. It will be a very annoying and time-consuming process for you to straighten out the mess, but at least you're not liable for the money Gigantobank lost.

Read that last sentence again: it's not your money you're protecting. So how did it become your responsibility (or mine) to protect the assets of wealthy corporations which, in most cases, we've never even done a lick of business with?

The folks I spoke to said that expecting financial companies to make sure it's really you they're lending money to would bring the credit card industry to its knees, which would be an undesirable outcome.

Let's say you've just been informed of the presence of one or more previously unknown credit cards in your name. It's up to you to prove that it's not yours. No "innocent until proven guilty" assumptions apply. Why can't you just tell the company "I never borrowed this money, and if you think I did then prove it?" Why is the onus on you to prove your innocence?

"That's simple," said Jay Foley, executive director of the Identity Theft Resource Center. "The fact that your personal information was used to open the account."

But calling it my "personal" information sounds like a bit of a stretch these days, doesn't it? Given how commonplace identity theft cases and database security breaches are, it seems folly for credit-card companies and the like to continue pretending that on all God's earth, the only person who could possibly know my social security number and date of birth is me. My credit alert requires companies to make a good faith effort to ensure I'm responsible before loaning money in my name. Why isn't that standard practice?

Foley spoke for several paragraphs that boil down to: this would kill the credit industry as we know it. "If it fell to credit card companies to prove the individual opened the account ... if I walked into a Kmart, or a Wal-Mart, or a Sears," he'd no longer be able to apply for and receive on-the-spot credit.

Nessa Feddis, from the American Bankers Association, put it more succinctly. "If consumers were simply allowed to make the statement 'I owe you nothing' and avoid payment, all consumers could simply make the declaration and avoid paying legitimate debts."

Well, all consumers could certainly try that. But the assumption of innocence until guilt is proven hasn't prevented society from imprisoning criminals, most of whom vehemently deny having committed the crime for which they were convicted. It's up to the prosecution to prove guilt. Why isn't that the case with debts incurred via identity theft?

"Criminal transactions are far less frequent and presumably more serious than loan transactions," Feddis said. "Resolving every loan dispute would clog the courts and make loans far more expensive ... the burden of proof in a criminal case is stronger than in a civil case."

Speaking of civil cases, consider this: if a thief steals your identity, you are (at least) not required to pay the actual bills your identity thief rang up. But neither are you entitled to compensation for the dozens of hours you'll spend clearing up the mess. And if you're unfortunate enough to suffer additional financial consequences, like being denied a mortgage or even turned down for a job because of your unjustly low credit score, you can't sue for damages in a civil court. Why not?

"State laws often allow victims to get compensation from criminals," Feddis observed. "Whether the victim is entitled to compensation from others ... is a matter of state law and tort law. It is no different from any other case where someone incurs damages due to someone else's actions."

Oh, but it's very different from such cases. If I, as a private citizen, make an honest mistake that causes you to be rejected for a loan or denied a job, you can sue me for damages in civil court. But if you suffer this same consequence due to the honest mistake of a credit-card company or credit reporting agency, you have no legal recourse at all.

"Unfortunately, that's right," said Jay Foley. "As much as I hate to say that, that's true."

Friday, September 08, 2017

Hurricane Prep: A Sadly Clueless Anecdote

Apparently, there are a lot of people in my neck of the woods who not only don't know there's a good chance we'll get hit by Hurricane Irma (albeit a much weaker version than what Florida is supposed to get), they don't even know it's possible for Atlanta or suburbs thereof to be affected by hurricanes!

I had to get my car's emissions test done today, and the test center nearest to me is in the parking lot of the strip mall holding the Kroger where I usually shop. When I got there, the emissions center was closed, but the man there said it would re-open in 15 minutes, after the operator got back from the bank. So I walked over to Kroger, figuring it wouldn't hurt to pick up a few more granola bars and other non-perishable snack-type foods.

There were a few people in Kroger making what I suspect were storm-prep purchases, including at least three shoppers whose carts were chockful of cases of drinking water. But for every one person buying storm-prep or non-perishable stuff, there were four people buying things like "carts full of frozen dinners" or other things certain to go bad if we do indeed lose power for any significant length of time. (Personally, I haven't bought any frozen or refrigerated food for the past week, ever since Irma got her name and I realized I was in the storm's maybe-possibly zone of possibility; furthermore, I've been making a point of eating as much as I can out of my own freezer or refrigerator. I'm still annoyed by the memory of the $150+ worth of food I had to discard in Connecticut, after the Halloween blizzard of 2011 left me without power for almost a week.)

I bought a few things and then returned to the emissions center, which had a long-ish line by then; I had to wait 20 or 30 minutes for my turn. While the test was going on I made small talk with the operator (who seemed amazed that my 2002-model car was still on the road), and at one point he also expressed surprise over how many people were in line for the emissions test. So I said something like "Yeah, I came by a little earlier but the guy said it was closed until you got back from the bank, so I went to Kroger to pick up a few more hurricane supplies."

"What, you're going to Florida?" he asked in a surprised tone of voice.

"No, but the storm's forecast to hit us here on Monday," I said in an equally surprised tone.

He said that's impossible; hurricanes can't hit us here because we're too far from any beach. I agreed that we don't have to worry about storm surges, but told him we can still get winds and rain bad enough to lose power, and maybe have contaminated tap water too. I also mentioned that when Hurricane Opal hit 20 years ago, parts of Atlanta and its suburbs were without electricity for up to a week.

Judging from the look on his face, I'm about 95 percent sure he thought I was just bullshitting him, or possibly a shill for the Granola Bar, Bottled Water and Canned Food-Industrial Complex (similar to what Rush Limbaugh claimed to believe a few hours before evacuating his own Florida digs). He also did not believe me when I mentioned going through a couple of hurricanes in Connecticut, because, quote, "hurricanes don't go that far north." Which made me incredulous, and I mentioned Superstorm Sandy trashing parts of New Jersey and New York City a few years ago, but -- again, he seemed to think I was full of it. He seriously seemed to believe hurricanes can only ever be a problem for people who live in Florida, or within a mile or two of a southern-state saltwater beach.

For his sake, as well as mine and all my neighbors, I hope he doesn't learn otherwise the hard way, come early next week.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Trump's Remaining Fanbase and the Broken-Glass Proof

Apparently I'm developing a taste for masochism, as I sat through the entirety of Trump's televised Phoenix rally the other night. He kicked it off with an outright lie – claiming there were not many people protesting him outside – and things only got worse from there. Yet his outright lies and lies of omission mattered not at all to his remaining fanbase of supporters. Here's the actual transcript of a brief back-and-forth I had on Twitter while the rally was still ongoing:
ME: Trump just accused CNN of cutting off the feed to the #PhoenixRally. I'm WATCHING that lying narcissistic twit on CNN.

SOME TRUMP FAN: He never said CNN

ME: Yes, he did. You can check it yourself, once this travesty of a speech re-airs.

SAME TRUMP FAN: Awesome speech calling out the media.
It's almost as though "support for Trump" exists in a set amount, and as that support is divided among fewer and fewer Americans, it becomes evermore concentrated in those Americans who DO still support him — mere seconds after his ludicrous claim that the very networks airing his speech were cutting off their feeds (because "they" don't want Americans to hear his words), his fans insisted that no, he never said any such thing, and it's awesome how he said it. The hell of it is, I don't think these people are actively, consciously lying; they genuinely can't see or hear what Trump says or does, when his words or actions contradict reality. They don't even see their own contradictions.

Suppose instead that Trump and his fans admitted the truth about how relatively few people went to the rally versus how very many protested it outside, but said “See, now, this rally WOULD have been packed, if not for God-loving Americans' fear that the evil violent Antifa-types would attack them....” yeah, that would be dishonest and self-serving, but in a way which at least accepts certain undeniable aspects of reality – namely, the numerical amount of people who went out for or against Trump at the rally. But no – instead Trump and his fans went for outright gaslighting: there were YUUGE numbers of rally attendees, a TINY number of protesters, the very networks airing this speech are refusing to air it....

I recall a conversation I had on a certain chat forum years ago—the context was discussing why certain otherwise-intelligent people will deny evolution, or manmade climate change, or something along those lines. And I posited that maybe part of the problem was that such issues lack what I called a “broken glass proof.” By which I mean: suppose you and I are debating the nature of glass – I say it is breakable, you say it is not.

I could perhaps change your mind (or maybe, “You are perhaps capable of changing your mind, if you are intellectually honest enough to admit 'Hmm, my previously held idea was wrong'”) via persuasion, reasoning and deduction: here are the facts regarding glass' chemical formula, crystalline structure, molecular bonds and the relative strength of them all. Everybody knows that substances with these qualities can break, glass has these qualities, ergo glass can break.

But if reasoning and deduction won't convince you that glass can indeed break, it is extremely easy for me to illustrate the breakability of glass: Here's an unbroken glass object. Behold, I just broke it. I can repeat this experiment multiple times if necessary. And if look at those broken shards and still deny glass is breakable, there's two possibilities: you are either lying/dishonest regarding what you actually see, or you are downright delusional/insane. Either way, it's clearly not worth my time to debate you anymore.

Most of the great religious, political or scientific controversies that currently exist or once existed are controversies for which there is no broken-glass proof: you personally cannot see man evolving from lower animals, nor single-celled organisms evolving into complex multicellular life. There is no vantage point from which you can observe the Earth orbiting the sun, the way you can observe carousel horses circling the center of a merry-go-round. You can't even directly see increased levels of greenhouse gases leading to higher average temperatures, the way you can directly see “Huh, holding a lighted match to a pile of newspapers makes those papers catch on fire.” Smoking tobacco doesn't immediately and directly cause lung cancer in the way that swallowing cyanide immediately and directly causes death. Et cetera.

So disbelieving in the evolution of man, the earth orbiting the sun, the reality of man-made climate change – at best these suggest a MASSIVE blind spot, but don't necessarily prove outright dishonesty or delusion in the manner of someone who can look at glass breaking and still deny glass can break, because evolution, the movement of the Earth or similar things all lack that undeniable broken-glass proof.

But lately, this past week or so, the Trumpsters ARE going so far as to deny broken-glass proofs – looking at huge crowds of anti-Trump protesters, yet insisting there's hardly anybody there. Swearing that the very stations which aired his speech refused to air it, because “they” don't want Americans to hear the truth. Accepting Trump's revised accounts of his original post-Charlottesville commentary despite video evidence proving his revised accounts were wrong. And so forth. And that's why I've given up even trying to debate with Trump fans, anymore than I'd waste time trying to convince  people who don't believe those broken shards of glass they see is proof positive that yes, glass CAN break.

Monday, August 14, 2017

What REAL "Heritage, Not Hate" Would Look Like

My father was career military so I'm not really “from” any one particular place, but between childhood, adolescence and adulthood, I've spent more than half my life living in former Confederate states, so technically, I qualify as a “Southerner.” And I'm about as pale as you can get without crossing the line into full-fledged albino status, which means I'm among the whitest of white Southerners, too.

Meanwhile, there's an ongoing argument which claims that my own heritage, history and/or culture is under attack, due to efforts to remove Confederate memorials from public places, or rename public streets and buildings named after Confederate heroes. To which I say: hogwash. Quit honoring Confederates; the only good thing to say about the Confederacy is that it lost. If private citizens want to continue honoring the memory of slavery and those who fought to defend it, that of course is their right, but the government should not be using taxpayers' money to glamorize such people.

Nor am I impressed by arguments that statues or road signs honoring Confederates are a vital part of “Southern heritage,” “Southern history” or “Southern culture.” Surely, there's more to the heritage, history and culture than those four years fighting for the right to own slaves? You could name streets after various Southern literary greats -- there's far too many to mention here, but off the top of my head I can think of Harper Lee, Kate Chopin, William Faulkner, Truman Capote and Alice Walker. Or, erect monuments and name public buildings after the various genres of music which started in the South, or the Southern musicians who made those genres famous. One could honor famous painters and other artists from the South. Or Southern inventors and scientists ranging from John Pemberton to George Washington Carver …. if “honoring Southern history, heritage and culture” (rather than honoring white supremacy and those who fought to maintain it) were the actual goal, there are plenty of options which don't require fetishizing the four years white Southerners spent trying to secede from the United States so they wouldn't have to give up their slaves.

(To forestall any arguments a la “It wasn't about slavery; it was about states' rights! And tariffs!” .... bullshit. Read the actual Confederate states' own articles of secession, which explicitly mention the importance of preserving slavery and/or white supremacy. As for the counterargument “What about monuments honoring slaveowners such as Washington and Jefferson, huh? You wanna take THOSE down, too?” ... those men today are honored and remembered for other things they did despite the stain of slavery on their souls. There's a big difference between “refusing to honor famous people who happened to own slaves” and “refusing to honor people who are famous solely because they fought their own countrymen to preserve the right to own slaves.” Had slavery never existed in America, there would still be plenty of reasons for American history books today to remember the likes of Washington and Jefferson ... but no reason at all to remember the likes of Jefferson Davis.)
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